Records managers today are faced with a very difficult dilemma, and frankly, I don’t think there is a solution yet, or a magic bullet. I believe that some company, or a brilliant records manager, will find a solution in the next few years and become the hero of the industry. Until then, we’ll continue to see articles written like this one that discuss the importance of the miracle solution for email archiving and records management.
In case you haven’t realized what I’m talking about, here’s the problem: After the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were amended to include ESI, or electronically stored information, on December 1, 2006, the discovery of Emails became a problem. reality and a nightmare for companies. And here’s the catch: Businesses weren’t prepared for this amendment, and even 15 months later, many businesses struggle to decide how to combine records retention programs with email content.
Some of the solutions proposed to date include, but are not limited to, the following:
Save all email – Courts love this solution because it can easily be shown that the company is violating its own record retention program;
Buy an enterprise content management (ECM) Solve and write complicated formulas to match words and phrases with words and phrases found in the record retention program. Currently, this “automated” solution has only a 78% success rate according to recent studies. Imagine telling your management that you can solve your email archiving problem with just a 22% error rate. I can hear the gasps now;
Set up an email folder structure system in the current email system (for example, Outlook or GroupWise) and ask employees to drag each email to its appropriate folder based on the content of the records retention schedule. Oh! Studies have shown that employees can rebel and find alternative ways to write email if they have to drag all emails, every day, into individual folders according to a records retention program that covers all the record classes identified in their company.
Use a combination of items 2 and 3 above. Today this is the most frequently recommended solution by ECM vendors.
Large companies send and receive millions of emails every day. Even small businesses receive an overwhelming number of emails on a daily basis. A typical email message can have a few sentences on multiple pages and optionally have one or more attachments. In terms of records management, let’s explain what constitutes an email message: Is it the body of the email? The subject line? The distribution? The attachments? The metadata? Well the answer is “YES” to all parts of an email message. Now the question is: “Now what?” I am with you. Frankly, I don’t see a good solution. While I think it is possible to create complicated formulas to improve the 22% error rate, there will be no good way to prove it one way or another.
To set a records retention period for an email message, the records manager needs to take their authorized records retention program (and boy, 59% of companies don’t even have a retention program) and find a way to relate the content to all parts of an Email Message. I can think of two solutions to this dilemma, both of which are ridiculous:
- The company gives the Records Manager unlimited funds and staff to review each email (you can understand why this will not happen) or
- The company communicates the mandate that email messages should not be used as a storage device, but rather as a communication delivery method. Naturally, employees would rebel against this solution.
The dilemma of setting up record retention schedules for each email still exists today, and there is no solution on the horizon that makes sense for employees and business bottom line. Don’t get me wrong: there are companies that will try to use an automated solution and then there are others that will try to use drag-and-drop methods, but these methods are not likely to be successful in the long term. Companies are likely to give up when employees rebel and training costs skyrocket – to no avail.
So what should records managers do?
Records managers should continue to gain as much knowledge as possible about email records retention and archiving systems. Records managers should listen to webinars, attend workshops and conferences, and keep abreast of emerging companies and technologies in the area of ECM and email archiving. Records managers need to be ready when a solution is presented.